Heidi Burgess 

January 2004 

Mediators are people -- official or unofficial -- who get involved in a dispute in order to help the parties resolve it. Unlike arbitrators or judges, mediators have no power to define or enforce an agreement, but they can help the parties to voluntarily reach agreement by helping them with the negotiation process. Heads of state or their envoys often act as official mediators in international conflicts; ombudsman may do so at the organization level. Informal intermediaries -- sometimes called Track II diplomats -- do the same at the international level, and, co-workers, friends, or family members can act as informal intermediaries in workplace, family, or neighborhood conflicts.

Typically mediation involves:

  • providing a suitable site for negotiation,
  • encouraging the proper parties to get involved,
  • helping to set groundrules (though the parties are usually involved in this process),
  • helping the parties define the agenda,
  • helping identify and reframe the issues,
  • encouraging the parties to communicate more effectively,
  • find areas of common ground,
  • encourage fair and effective negotiation and
  • sometimes, drafting an agreement (that the parties have articulated) for the parties to sign.

Just how this is done varies considerably from person to person, and case to case. More information can be found in the following associated articles:

 Use the following to cite this article:
Burgess, Heidi. "Mediators." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: January 2004. <>.